How to Help a Child with Selective Mutism

26th November 2021by Truhap0


The crux of this blog topic is Selective Mutism – I am skeptical whether all are aware of this disorder. Selective Mutism is often overlooked and rare. Thus the need to discuss and share this topic is crucial. Spread the awareness to make Selective Mutism more identifiable and recognizable.

Selective Mutism is often confused between shyness and anxiety. As a result, it is critical to recognize the signs and symptoms of SM. It is vital to be aware of it to prevent the development of any future disorders.After discussing the significance of Selective Mutism, continue reading to gain a deeper understanding of it.

Generally, people consider Selective Mutism as a disorder related to the lack of speech. This disorder is so rare that at times it is challenging to notice it. It is most common amongst children. Usually, children who are unable to speak and express themselves in social settings are associated with Selective Mutism.

Recent studies have shown that it is difficult to differentiate a child having SM and a child without SM, as the symptoms are not prominent at the initial stage. 

To understand it better children having SM are not able to speak, go quiet, or withdraw in social settings or in front of certain people. On the contrary, the same children speak their hearts out, are chirpy, social when they are in relaxed surroundings. Selective Mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder. The point to be noted is that it is not that the child cannot speak but, they go mute under specific conditions.

Selective Mutism may cause significant impairment in a child’s life. It interferes with the kid’s life, both socially and academically. It restricts the child from engaging in several fun-filled activities that need verbal communication, such as playdates, etc. There is, however, some hope that, with the correct therapy, children with Selective Mutism can develop and lead a happy life.

Selective Mutism Symptoms

It is critical to be aware of all Selective Mutism signs and symptoms. This childhood anxiety disorder is not just related to shyness or anxiety. In this case, the child becomes nonverbal in certain situations despite being able to communicate easily at home or in relaxed settings.  Some prominent symptoms related to Selective Mutism are as below: 

  • A child is chirpy and talkative when at home amongst family members but becomes nonverbal in socially awkward situations, amongst strangers, or in public settings. 
  • In situations when they are not able to communicate, they display sudden stillness or are paralyzed with fear. 
  • They are unable to make eye contact in such situations and must rely on nodding, pointing, and other gestures to respond.
  • Difficult for a child to form friendships with peers, unable to participate in activities at school.
  • Display temper tantrums
  • Rigid body posture, frozen facial expressions, slow to respond, and clings to parents when at public places or other social gatherings. 

Treatment of Selective Mutism

The best part of all this is that SM can be cured with a specific treatment program. For this, it is inevitable to undergo a comprehensive evaluation to have a diagnosis. The child should be examined under different situations wherein they are non-verbal and verbal. Each child is different and, so is this disorder. SM varies from child to child. The doctors have to closely monitor the child to determine the apt treatment for them.

Generally, the treatment for SM includes medications, psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, or sometimes a combination of two is applicable. 

The doctor may also use treatment action like Stimulus Fading – in this activity, the child talks with whom they are comfortable and converse easily, then a new person joins the conversation. It prepares the child to get comfortable in new situations.

The shaping technique employs rewards to encourage the child to speak up or communicate, progressing from simply pointing out things to whispering and then speaking clearly. Other techniques used are Self-modelling techniques, systematic desensitization, speech-language therapy, etc. 

Learning to deal with anxiety

Each member in a child’s life must get involved while treating the child with SM. If the child gets apprehensive or nervous while ordering at a store, the family member should immediately pitch to answer what the child wishes to buy from the store.

The goal here is to reduce the child’s anxiety.  The treatment program focuses not just on the speaking up part but to reduce the anxiety levels associated with speaking. It is vital to reassure the child that they will be able to speak up gradually when they are ready. 


Tips for Helping Kids Talk

Along with professional treatment to cure Selective Mutism, several other things can also be done to help the child to overcome or manage their condition. Parents can help their children to cope up in different social settings to reduce their anxiety levels. Some tips to follow are as below: 

  • Inform their peers and school staff, teachers about the child’s disorder. They should not get irritated or frustrated if the child refuses to take part in an activity or refuse to talk in the class. They should be aware that the child is not arrogant but is unable to speak in social settings. Based on the doctor’s recommendation, the teacher should provide a positive and comfortable environment to encourage the child to express themselves freely. 

  • Choose activities that they enjoy or like. Children generally are more confident when they engage themselves in activities that can showcase their skills. Rather than forcing a child to participate in social situations, involve the child in arts, crafts, building blocks, or solving puzzles. Involve the child in activities that do not need them to communicate. It will help to increase the child’s self-worth and confidence in a social setting. 

  • Avoid negative support and praise. The psychologists will guide the parents about negative reinforcement. It should be avoided while interacting with the child having Selective Mutism. Parents should instead learn to offer the child positive reinforcement. The child will not overcome Selective Mutism or social anxiety through any pressure. 

Selective Mutism disorder can be treated with compassion, understanding, and patience. Children should not be pressured for not making any progress. Instead, consult a psychologist to suggest changes in the child’s activities for a better outcome


Helping Older Kids

Treating older children with Selective Mutism is challenging as, by this age, they have become better at avoiding situations that may require a conversation. The longer the teenager misses out on social learning opportunities and academics, the more likely they are impacted. Teens and older children may face difficulty with their long-standing habits, additional anxiety disorders, peer relationships, and depression. Older teens may get inclined towards the consumption of drugs or alcohol to ease their anxiety. Though treatment with older children is complicated, it is very much possible.

Among the treatment options are intensive behavioral therapy, specific interventions to develop social skills, medications, and interventions to treat disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders. The best treatment plan for older children is by offering cognitive behavioral therapy. It helps them to challenge their thoughts and understand their feelings and behavior. 


Bilingual Children

Generally, Selective Mutism occurs in those children who speak two languages compared to children who speak only one language. Although Selective Mutism and bilingualism are directly connected, bilingualism does not cause Selective Mutism. Selective Mutism occurs in children who are anxious when required to speak in a language with which they are unfamiliar.

In some cases, children may display Selective Mutism when they have to communicate only in their second language. In some cases, fear and social anxiety may be the source of their anxiety. Thus, careful analysis and observation are essential to cure Selective Mutism in bilingual children



Despite all of the indications of Selective Mutism, many people believe that a child will grow out of it as they become older. But, this is not always the case. People with Selective Mutism suffer from a big dilemma in their minds. They face a real struggle to curtail several great ideas inside their head but are not able to express them. 

If your loved ones have Selective Mutism, it would be wise to seek professional diagnosis and treatment from a renowned child psychologist in Hyderabad at TruHap.  



What is the difference between Autism and Selective Autism?

Yes, it is vital to know the difference between Selective Mutism and Autism as they share the same characteristics. The diagnoses of both disorders would focus on the child being sensitive to environments and bouts of not speaking. The critical distinction is that children with autism may experience communication disorders or challenges even in environments where they feel comfortable and safe. They may also have issues like repetitive behaviors like hand flapping, etc.  On the contrary, children having Selective Mutism will appear normal and can speak well in their comfortable atmosphere like any other child. A child with autism may also have Selective mutism, which causes them to stop communicating in social situations.

What additional personality traits or behaviors are linked to Selective Mutism?

When a person is diagnosed with Selective mutism they experience significant impairment in their day-to-day life due to their fear of communication. It arises due to anxiety, or autism or a learning disorder, or a different language. 

How does Selective Mutism Differ from Shyness?

Shyness is a standard personality trait, whereas Selective Mutism is a mental health disorder. Shyness is a tendency wherein one withdraws from people especially, from strangers. We all have varying levels of shyness. Shyness in a person may be influenced by genes like eye colour, etc. However, unlike other mental health disorders such as SM, social phobia, and avoidant personality disorder, it is not marked by extreme inhibition that interferes with daily functioning.

Shy people can adequately function in society.  Shyness in a person may differ with age.  People with Selective Mutism disorder may not be able to adapt well to social challenges and may not be able to communicate well with others. They may have limited occupational achievement and need treatment to overcome their symptoms of Selective Mutism. 

Selective Mutism: What Causes It?

Selective Mutism is caused by a variety of factors. It is an anxiety disorder related to social anxiety, anxiety, and inhibited temperament wherein speaking is generally avoided. This avoidant behavior gets strengthened over time. This may also cause due to genetics. Communication disorders and disorders such as expressive language may also raise the risk of a person developing Selective Mutism. Being bilingual also increases the risk of a person developing SM. Stressful or traumatic events may also be the reason behind why a person may have SM. 

How Does Selective Mutism Affect Prognosis? Will my child be able to overcome this?

The prognosis for teenagers and children treated for Selective Mutism is very good. However, some traces of anxiety may remain in the person even after being able to communicate. Each person – be it a child or an adult are different, but on average, but with appropriate treatment, SM can frequently be overcome. Without treatment, Selective Mutism may persist and would lead to the onset of additional comorbid disorders such as substance abuse, depression, etc. Most people having Selective Mutism display significant improvement in clinical settings.

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